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A Note to New Families from FernLeaf's Executive Director

Updated: May 7, 2021

Hello and welcome to FernLeaf!

My name is Michael Luplow and I am the Executive Director and founder of FernLeaf. I always hesitate at that word - founder - because there were so many hearts and minds that went into the creation of our incredible school. I’d love to take a moment to share the evolution and creation of FernLeaf through my personal story. Get cozy, grab a beverage and read along!

As early as kindergarten, I learned what it felt like to be rebuked for not conforming, to sit in a desk all day, and to be surrounded by adults who were often not the role models I or my parents hoped I would have had. These early experiences shaped a thoughtful and critical eye that helped me navigate the remainder of my public school experience. In my junior year, despite being a capable student, I dropped out of high school (remember, I didn’t have a FernLeaf!) and began taking classes at a local Community College. While my friends finished their Senior year, I finished my first year of college.

From there, while earning a degree in music education at the University of Illinois, my interest in educational psychology and policy were piqued. Two of the foundation stones of FernLeaf were laid at that time: curiosity and leadership. While I was learning how to teach material that I loved, I was also learning that public school, and teaching, didn't have to be what they so often were.

Over the next 17 years, I had the opportunity to develop thoughtful, compassionate, and innovative approaches and programs in a variety of urban, suburban, and rural schools in grades K-12 in Illinois and North Carolina.

It was during this time that I recognized a personal strength in building programs and creating rich, positive, and meaningful experiences for children. I became an informal student of school administration and decided that a master’s degree in entrepreneurship at Western Carolina University would provide a foundation suited to my interests and passion while providing me skills to better create meaningful change in the lives of children.

In late 2012, I began organizing groups of local educators, parents, and community members to explore the nuances of starting a new public charter school in this area. We even enlisted the support of many of our current and former students! A core group of educational thinkers was solidified into what would become the genesis of the FernLeaf Team.

We dug deep with insightful students, master teachers, and frustrated parents; we tapped business leaders struggling to find employees with strong creative capacities and leadership skills; and we worked tirelessly to draw on all of this collective wisdom to develop a remarkable school with a deep commitment to its founding mission.

FernLeaf has unfurled into exactly what we all hoped it would, and so much more.

Our students receive a top-notch academic education based on the NC Standard Course of Study, they gain real world problem solving skills through our robust, hands-on Project Based Learning programming, and they are supported in the development of important social and emotional skills through a rich and varied Social and Emotional Learning program.

One of the things I focus on with the FernLeaf staff and with prospective families during tours and open houses is my belief that for children, school is synonymous with life.

It’s the main course, not a side dish.

Consider this: school is where our children go every day, it’s where they spend most of their waking hours, it’s where most of their friends are, it’s where their greatest exposure to adult role models takes place, and it has a profound effect on their social and emotional development and well being - all of which have ramifications that play out over the duration of their lives.

So if school is synonymous with life, then a random drawing has just forever altered your family’s life. And whether it was chance, luck, or serendipity that brought you into the FernLeaf Community, everyone at FernLeaf takes it very seriously that the responsibility to do great things for kids is still ours and is not something we can simply leave to chance. We know that we represent the hopes and dreams of our students and their families. We honor that incredible responsibility, acknowledge the twist of fate that made it all happen, and will always work tirelessly to help our students have the lives they deserve.

FernLeaf’s culture allows students to thrive in a small, tight-knit learning environment that embraces diversity, values creativity and innovation, and embodies the essence of community, understanding, and the human spirit. Now that you’re a part of our school community, we can’t wait to share with you all of the things that make FernLeaf such a special place. Like the innovation and creativity that students learn through Project Based Learning, the rich learning environments that come out of FernLeaf’s emphasis on Fieldwork and Overnights, our dedication to Outdoor and Environmental Education, our deep commitment to Social and Emotional Learning, all of the Unique On-Campus Activities we offer, and the value we place on Community and Culture.

Children sitting on run with hands clasped performing mindfulness practice
FernLeaf 2nd grade class during morning mindfulness

While all of these big picture things are important, it’s also all of the little things that make FernLeaf so special.

  • Our students have at least eight off-campus fieldwork experiences each year,

  • they spend a ton of time outside, &

  • they participate in daily mindfulness practices.

  • Students don’t have cell phones at school so they actually talk to and interact with each other.

The list of little things is endless and when combined with all of the wonderful programming, helps to make FernLeaf a remarkable place for children to learn and grow.

While all of these incredible things are completely true about FernLeaf, one thing that hasn’t been stated yet is the importance of YOUR role in our community and culture. FernLeaf would not be the welcoming and supportive community it is without families like you.

FernLeaf is my life’s work and I’m so grateful to get to share it with you.

I know I speak for everyone at FernLeaf when I say thank you for allowing us to be a big part of your child’s and your family’s experience. We are here for you and look forward to working with you for many years to come.

With love,

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